Christmas Number Twos

I feel I should point out immediately that this piece is about pop music, and has nothing to do with bodily functions, so if you have come here for the wrong reason I suggest you leave quietly, before anyone notices. I won’t tell. Honest!

A slightly strange custom grew up in the UK in the 1960s surrounding the music charts: who would have the Christmas number one single? The charts as we know them date back to 1952, and gradually the achievement of being number one at Christmas came to acquire a certain cachet. During my teenage years this actually mattered to us, believe it or not. We talked about it, we had our favourites that we wanted to see at the top of the charts, and more often than not we were disappointed. To this day, the status of “Christmas Number One” still gets a lot of media coverage and present day pop fans take an interest. To complete the picture, the BBC even trundles out Top Of The Pops for a special Christmas edition – assuming they can find any presenters who aren’t in prison, that is. But in recent years the whole thing has become a farce, largely due to the Man Who Murdered Music and his Crap Factor TV ‘reality’ show. Either the winner of that is basking in their 15 seconds of fame at the top spot, or a spoiler from the ABC (Anyone But Cowell) camp has led the way: Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name really does say it all about Christmas, doesn’t it!

My first thought had been to do a piece on the number ones but, given the Cowell Factor, there has of late been a growing interest in what has held the number two spot at Christmas, so I thought that this might be a better source of some proper music. It also leads to a better title for this piece. Assuming that even Wonkipedia can’t cock up something as simple as a list, I consulted that oracle to compare the two lists. I was temporarily shocked to find that the Beatles had been number two twice in the 60s. Heresy! Who could have kept them off the top? Ah, it was themselves, so no need to panic. This happened in 1963, when I Want To Hold Your Hand led She Loves You, and again in 1967 when one of my favourite Beatles songs, Hello Goodbye, beat this to number one:

For those who don’t know it, the Magical Mystery Tour was a TV special made by the Beatles after they became too big to tour. It was released as a 6 track double EP, in a lovely gatefold book form, and cost the princely sum of 13s 11d, as compared with around 6s 8d for a standard single. Old money, kiddies, look it up! I don’t think any other band at the time could have achieved this, especially when you consider that to get to the top of the charts in 1967 required many more sales than today. No other act has ever done that even once, let alone twice, although sadly Dustbin Blubber holds the top two places in the pre-Christmas chart so has a chance of doing it this year. I never thought I’d want Cowell to succeed until now!

From my perspective, the heyday of Christmas singles was the 1970s, when anyone who was anyone just had to have a Christmas single. A lot of nobodies did too, but they won’t be featuring here! Of course, Christmas singles were nothing new, but Slade and Wizzard were at the forefront of a trend which carried on  through the 80s with Wham and others through to the present day. Often a novelty record made it to number one – Benny Hill’s Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West in 1971 for example – and occasionally they would deprive a much more deserving record of the top spot. Well, one that I liked better, anyway. So, in 1974, whilst Little Jimmy Osmond basked in top spot glory with Long Haired Lover From Liverpool (had he even been there?) this had to make do with being number two:

Always guaranteed to fill the dancefloor when I was at Uni! British public, how could you?!

One of the great musical tragedies of the 90s, for me, was the juggernaut of bad taste that was the Spice Girls, and the fact that they had three successive Christmas number ones. At least they had the decency to call their last one, in 1998, Goodbye but it still kept this off the top, for which I’ll never forgive them (along with all their other crimes against music):

I think the Chef was robbed! But at least he and Isaac Hayes had the satisfaction of dethroning the Shouty Girls the following week.

I’m going to finish this brief trawl through the depths of the pop charts with one of the all-time great Christmas crimes. The Pet Shop Boys were one of the biggest bands of the 80s and were at number one yet again in 1987, this time for Christmas with Always On My Mind (I preferred Willie Nelson’s own version but didn’t have a vote). But they kept this seasonal classic from being number one:

Guess which one still gets played a lot today! And it has still never been number one at any time, not just for Christmas. But I’ll be playing it again this year, unlike the new nonentity at the top for a nanosecond or two.

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15 thoughts on “Christmas Number Twos

    • Thanks for the thought, Frank. It looks interesting but unfortunately I got the dreaded ‘this video is not available’ message – I guess it’s a copyright issue, as usual! She tells a good, well-informed story, though.

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  1. I agree about Always on my Mind – on of my favourites when I briefly presented a C&W show on Goole hospital radio. And The Pogues + Kirsty McColl has to be the all time best Christmas song. I gather a certain young fellow and some songstress have murdered it recently. Thankfully, I have yet to hear that version – and probably won’t, living here in this Irish backwater. BTW, do you know how the Pogues got their name? If you don’t I’ll point you to an old article of mine.

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    • Wow! That’s a real claim to fame! Seriously, though, I think Willie Nelson’s plaintive voice suited his song much better than a thumping electro-pop beat did. Is the new version you mention by Ed Sheeran? I think he’s one of the most overrated pop artists of all time, and I’m glad to say I haven’t heard it either. Christy Moore does a version on his recent live album which is much more to my taste!

      You may be seeing the Pogues again here fairly soon. As for their name, I know it was abbreviated from the original Gaelic name by their record company as that was deemed a bit rude. And I’m not going to write it on here!

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  2. Reblogged this on Take It Easy and commented:

    Courtesy of the ever reliable Timehop I’ve been reminded of this post, from two years ago today. Having reread it, I think it worthy of one of my regular acts of recycling, as few of my current readers will have seen it before. It’s also a little bit of fun to drop into the mix with my current series of #ChristmasSongADay, and there is no overlap – well, so far, anyway. Watch this space!

    In sharing this again, I feel duty bound to make amends for my rather unkind comment about that Bieber bloke. Shortly after I posted this originally, he asked his fans to buy a charity record which was raising funds for healthcare, and it worked: they took the number one spot away from him. I know he probably didn’t need the money but it was a nice gesture to give up the honour of being number one for Christmas.

    Enjoy my selection of some of the songs which I feel have been robbed over the years, and I’ll see you again on Christmas Day for the final part of this year’s Christmas posts.

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  3. So true regarding whether there are any TOTP presenters left who are not in prison! On a lighter note, dear old Noddy Holder was giving it some wellie this morning as I shuffled around the supermarket. He must be rubbing his hands together with glee round about March every year……..

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  4. I can’t imagine anyone but Willie Nelson singing “Always on My Mind” I think I have it in some form, and if I can find the tape recorder (remember those?) or some such contraption that can play it, I’ll have some wonderful music this morning. Or I’ll just go to Utube…

    Liked by 2 people

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